One of the saddest moments in the history of the Jews in Italy had been October 9, 1982. A commando of Palestinian terrorists assaulted the monumental Great Synagogue in Rome. It was Shemini Atzeret, the day before Simchat Torah, and the Synagogue was packed. We, in Italy, have a tradition: Shemini Atzeret is the day of the family blessing. So that day the Synagogue was packed with children The Palestinian terrorists opened fire and wounded many Jews and killed Stefano Taché, a child of 2 yrs old, son and grandson of Libyan refugees.
A large part of the Rome Jewish community is composed by refugees, expelled from Lybia in 1969, after the usual wave of pogroms and massacres. Surviving a pogrom in Tripoli, only to see your child slaughtered by Palestinians in Rome must have been horrible.
Israeli so called “peace activists: have developed a habit, recently. They track down some terrorist, for example someone released in exchange for Gilad Shalit, and they interview him. They may then produce a movie, of course funded by some money from Europe. And so, if you have the stomach, it is possible to see the Palestinian hero in his natural environment: some brick and mortar nice house. While the hero was in prison, the family, you know, was subsidised. He usually is pampered by family and friends, and of course surrounded by children, and obviously shows no regret. Sometimes the peace activist (remember, it is almost a genre, now), pushes the envelope, and dares to ask why, why did you kill those civilians? Why did you murder those children?
Sometimes the question is not even asked. Because the answer is obvious, right? Because of the occupation, Jews must die. Because of the many wrong doings that the Arabs, or the Muslims, have suffered since immemorial times, some Westerner, (for these people even Libyan Jews are Westerners), deserves to die, even children.
I must admit, as an Italian Jew, I have asked myself the why? question many, many times. Thinking of the death of Stefano Taché, and thinking of his 4 year old brother Gavriel carried in a hurry to the hospital by helicopter. And rescued, thank God: hamdulillah, as the Libyan Jews say. I attended scholarly meetings with Prof. Giuseppe Sermoneta z”l, a worldwide expert in Jewish paleography. As a result of being wounded by these terrorists, on that day, he suffered with a limp. And while I was watching him I used to ask myself why.
Contrary to the Israeli well meaning peacenick reporters, I was not given the luxury, the chance, to ask the why? question to the Palestinian terrorists who murdered a 2 years old child, on the stairs of the Great Synagogue in Rome, on Shemini Atzeret. And that is because the terrorist commando managed to run away to safety.
I know it is incredible. How could it happen that a group of terrorists manage to escape the police, in a European capital, with policemen more or less everywhere, defies every imagination: these were the years of red terrorisms, after all.
All sorts of conspiracy theories have been formulated. My favourite is the legend according to which the purpose of the terrorist attack was to put Yasser Arafat, then leader of the PLO, in a bad light. Poor Yasser was ready to sign a peace agreement, but, you know, someone, certainly not a Palestinian, had plotted against him. So the they killed a child: only to harm the reputation of the innocent, dovish little Yasser. Who are they? Well, we all know Jews kill babies in certain times… That was in the media. Yes, in the mainstream media. And much worse.
Indeed as an Italian Jew, every time I watch footage, or read articles about that barbaric Palestinian attack, I cannot but feel a sense of isolation, of discomfort. Never in our 2000 years of history have Italian Jews felt more isolated.
That attack was not unannounced. It followed weeks, and months during which the synagogues and the Jewish schools were, literally, under siege. During a rally of the trade union, someone left an empty coffin in front of the Great Synagogue in Rome, the very same place where Stefano Taché would have been murdered a few weeks after. Graffiti were sprayed on the wall of Jewish buildings. Someone had the good taste to prepare a list of Jewish shops to boycott, and to hand it around, in the weeks after the terrorist attack; because these shops were owned by Zionists hence, to boycott them. Pro Palestinians have a thing for boycott, you know.
Over time, some kind of peace was reached between the Jewish community and the Italian society: the media, the trade unions, the Church, the Left wing parties etc. But that feeling of being isolated, that lack of support, that perception of being second class citizens… Catholic churches don’t need security; synagogues do… All of this remained and it has, I am sad to say, become a sort of second nature.
And it is not only an Italian story. In the UK, just like in Italy, we Jews know that feeling of isolation. We are used to reading editorials and columns that link terrorism to the actions of Israel, as if the existence of a Jewish State was a root cause of terrorism. In the UK, just like in Italy, we are used to reading in the mainstream media such as the Guardian, the kind suggestion to stop supporting Israel, so that terrorists will leave us in peace.
How many people delude themselves in such a perverse reasoning? How many politicians, in the UK, are prepared to leave Israel alone, to meet the terrorists’ agenda? Difficult, difficult questions.
Meanwhile, terrorism is here, in the UK. We are still shaken and shocked because of last week’s attack. The saddest thing is that such an attack was not unexpected. Everybody knew that London was, and still is, under threat. Thank God, this time the police were prepared! Terrorists are a threat to us all: Jews, non Jews and yes, ordinary decent British citizens that happen to be Muslims. It is time for everyone to stand up together against Islamic radicalism and terrorism, rather than falling into the old habit of scapegoating the Jewish citizens, or the Jewish State.
In this difficult time, Israel is a precious ally against terrorism, for freedom and democracy. May British politicians be able to learn from the Jewish State. And may this nightmare finish soon.
Brighton and Hove Reform Synagogue, 25 March 2017